Self-Care for Physicians – Don’t Burn Out!

Physicians in Ontario are going through a very stressful time. The government has unilaterally imposed a ‘contract’ on the physicians, after having negotiated in bad faith, causing many physicians to retire early, many younger physicians to look for jobs outside Ontario, and many clinics to close their doors completely.

What is worse, there are those physicians who are not in a position to just get up and go, who are facing the prospect of not just financial loss, but the biggest worry for a physician – being unable to provide the care that we are trained to, and wanting to provide, for our patients. A physician can only truly focus on the patient right in front of them at any time – and having to say that a test is not covered any more, even though it is important, is a huge stress, and a great risk for Burn out!

I am writing this post, really to offer a few of my own suggestions, to try and bring some level of sanity in their lives. We are trained to take care of others. We often forget – or feel guilty about taking care of ourselves. These are not in any particular order of importance. I am just putting them down as they occur to me!

1. Nobody does anything TO you. They do things FOR themselves! Believe it or not, people really think about themselves, and do whatever they need to do, for their own reasons. Rarely do they do it to hurt you (unless they feel really vindictive)! Remembering this always helps to put things in perspective. It helps us remove the surging adrenaline, and try and figure out what their motivation is – it is much easier to address them, if we can do this.

2. “When Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Things may look bleak now. But everything in life goes through cycles. Generally, tides will turn, and things will look better. Today’s woes will look like nothing, when you look back, in the years to come.

3. Exercise the “No” muscle! learn to say “No”. I often hear physicians saying “Who will look after my patients?” My answer is, “If you drop dead right now, who do you think will look after them?” Nobody is indispensable. Life will still go on. So, don’t take on so much that you are crushed under the weight of it all. Learn to walk away, intermittently. That means go away, on a vacation, before you are too tired to enjoy it. It also means, go home on the weekend and hand over your patients, if you can. It also means switch your phone/pager/computer off for a few hours every once in a while.

4. Build you support network. If you do drop dead, the only people who will still be crying after the first week will be your family, and close friends. Even they still have to move on, albeit with heavy hearts. So, for their sakes, and for yours, make sure you treasure them, cherish them, nourish them. They will be there for you in your bad times.

5. Take care of your body and your mind. This may seem simple, or “easy to say”. But you owe it to yourself, your family, and your patients, to be healthy, and able to function well. Nobody can control what happens to us in life. The healthiest of us can get afflicted with the most crippling of conditions, at any time. That being said, we must do what we can. There is no excuse for not being able to make good judgements, when it comes to patient care. A single mistake can be the cause of untold suffering to somebody else’s life. It is our duty to step back, if we feel unable to perform our duties unto par. More importantly, it is our duty to make sure we CAN perform our duties well.

6. Take care of your soul. Have some kind of a practice, that brings you peace. It may be prayer for some, but it could be something as simple as a regular walk in nature – or a long bath, meditation, music, or art.

7. Try to learn something new every so often. This really will help to keep us from stagnating. When we do the same thing day after day, we get good at it – and can become complacent. That is when we make mistakes. Keeping the mind invigorated will prevent such stagnation.

8. Talk! Talk to somebody, express your feelings. Believe it or not, there is no experience you can possibly have that somebody has not had before you! Don’t try to go it all alone. Also, know that others are going through their own set of problems at any time. Bringing in another perspective will certainly help you look at your problem differently – but most important, you may decide that your troubles are nothing, compared to somebody else’s.

9. Get involved in some community activity outside of your work. We are very lucky to be working in a profession that gives us the honour of helping somebody else with every decision we make. However, people in this profession have a common set of traits, and it always brings a balance, when you interact with people from other fields.

10. Ultimately, You are responsible only for your own happiness. You cannot change other people’s way of thinking – or their actions. You can change your own response to them. You ARE responsible for your own responses, and if you don’t like what you see, change something you are doing or thinking, to achieve a different result.


I could go on – and on! But this is a good start, I think. I shall do more in future posts.

Please do let me know what you think of this. Also, feel free to add any suggestions of your own.



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